From Idea to Reality: Starting a Custom T-Shirt Business

Starting a custom t-shirt business is a fun and rewarding experience. It’s also a competitive market. But thanks to its vastness, there’s still room for new boomers who want to start a custom t-shirt business. According to market analysis from Verified Market Research, the custom t-shirt printing market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.02% from 2023 to 2030.

But besides being a fun experience, it’s also a lot of work. This article will walk you through all the steps necessary to get your business off the ground and help you avoid common mistakes.

Establish Your Business Model

Now that you have your idea, it’s time to establish your business model. A business model describes how a company makes money and how it will operate in the long run. It can be anything from selling widgets for $10 each through Amazon to creating an app that allows people to order custom t-shirts from their phones.

It can also be as simple as offering a free service, such as teaching people how to sew or giving them free fabric samples, so they feel confident ordering from you when they’re ready. In fact, if you plan on doing custom designs for clients, this is probably the best option because it allows them to get accustomed to ordering something more complicated than just a plain t-shirt without any customization.

You will also have to decide whether you want to have an offline store, an online store, or both. While it can be tempting to start just an eCommerce storefront due to low investments, having an offline store is also vital. Data from Grand View Research shows that the offline market held the highest custom t-shirt market revenue, at around 53%, in 2021.

Connect With a Wholesaler for Raw Materials

Now that you’ve decided to start a custom t-shirt business, your next step is to figure out how you will get your raw materials. This can be tricky, but here are some tips on finding the right supplier for your business.

  • Find a Supplier That Will Work With You: It’s important to find a supplier willing and able to work with small businesses like yours. Not all wholesalers have time for small orders, so keep searching until you find one that does.
  • Negotiate Prices: Once you’ve found a supplier who will work with you, make sure they’re charging fair prices by negotiating with them. If they’re not willing or able to give discounts based on volume or payment terms, it might be time for someone else.
  • Ensure Quality Before Buying Large Quantities: Make sure all of their products come from reputable manufacturers and follow strict quality control standards by ordering samples first before committing large amounts of money to their inventory system.
  • Focus on the Type of Material. There are different types of materials available. However, if you want to succeed in the custom t-shirt market, going for heat transfer vinyl t-shirts or shirts will be wise. The reason is that vinyl is durable and can be easily printed for customization. You can print anything very quickly on a heat-transfer vinyl shirt.
  • Profit Margin. When selecting a supplier, it is advised to keep your profits in mind. If you end up buying high-priced raw materials, it will increase your manufacturing cost and further impact the selling cost. If your customers are not used to purchasing high-cost products, you won’t survive in the market. Thus, you might have to lower the costs, which can impact your revenue. According to market estimates, a business should maintain a profit rate of 30%-40% for long-term success.

Research and Plan Your Market Strategy

The next step in starting a custom t-shirt business is learning as much as possible about the target demographic you hope to cater to. For instance, data from Astute Analytica shows that 41% of 18-34-year-old young adults made a t-shirt purchase in 2021. Hence, you must try targeting these people. This will help determine the clothing style, colors, and graphics that appeal to them.

For example, suppose your target market is women under 20 years old who like sports but don’t want the stereotypical “jock” look. In that case, you may want to use soft pastel colors with a floral pattern instead of more masculine designs like footballs or basketballs.

It’s also essential for any new business owner to know what their customers like and what other businesses are doing so that they can either do something better than them or find a way around them completely. If there aren’t any competitors yet, it’s time to research how much money similar businesses are making online every month.

This will give you an idea of whether there’s enough demand within your local area before investing all this time into launching such an establishment. Otherwise, if demand isn’t high enough, then maybe consider trying another location or looking at ways in which people might purchase custom tees locally rather than over internet websites where it may take longer than necessary.

Understand Applicable Federal, State, and Local Taxes

Taxes are part of running your business, and you must understand the taxes you must pay. There are three federal taxes, income tax, self-employment tax, and Social Security/Medicare. You should know the difference between federal income and self-employment tax. These two types of taxes have different filing requirements, deductions, and rates.

You need to know how to file your state and local government forms and what type of federal taxes apply to your business. Every state has its requirements for filing quarterly reports or annual returns, and depending on where your business is located will determine whether or not there are any additional filing requirements.

It’s also important to know how often these forms need to be filed because missing any deadline can result in fines from the government. If this sounds complicated enough already, don’t worry. Most people who start a custom T-shirt business do so as a side hustle while working another full-time job.


The best way to get started with your own custom t-shirt business is to take the time to research and plan. You should consider how much you’ll need for start-up costs like equipment, raw materials, and licensing fees. Decide what type of market strategy would work best for you. Consider hiring employees if needed, and then register as an LLC or sole proprietorship if applicable.